Quoted in the programme notes, a British theatre historian says any production “representing the unrepresentable” horror that is the Holocaust should leave the “spectator perplexed, wanting to know more although convinced that no knowledge can ever cure him of his perplexity. It must be a play that generates stunned silence.” By this criteria, The Greatest Sin Of All succeeds. But, in terms of moving an audience, it rarely gets there.
The staging is fantastic, however, as the piece takes over the whole of Manchester’s spectacular Victorian baths, the audience is ushered in 20 at a time and guided round by a solemn-faced young woman. Because the location constantly changes, one never becomes bored exactly, but all but a few of the individual pieces fails to prompt more than a flicker of emotion. Quite an achievement considering the psychic weight of the subject matter.
The producers’ main error is to fail to employ a writer – we can get verbatim tales of the Shoah from documentaries and books. The few scenes that stand out are those that couple great art design and direction with a semi-decent script. One of the best is a story narrated by a survivor, brilliantly played by David Corden, in which he is given a terrible choice by his Nazi overlord.
Other scenes are memorable for being more in the realm of physical theatre; the Death March sees eight actors walking on the spot on the tiled floor of a huge, empty swimming pool. It’s quite a magical sight but the dialogue is an afterthought.
Music plays a big part, too, and we are treated to some haunting Jewish hymns, as well as a mournful clarinet solo played over the top of an actor reading from Mein Kampf.
The production team should be commended for having the vision to utilise Victoria Baths – I look forward to it becoming a regular theatre space – but, by neglecting the writing, it feels like a wasted opportunity.